Creating good work in Manchester: why people management matters

In this episode of the Acas Podcast, we discuss the joint work done by Acas, CIPD and Manchester Business Growth Hub. The work highlights the importance of investing in people management skills to create good employment – even in a pandemic.

We're joined by:

  • Ian McArthur, head of the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter
  • Daphne Doody, head of CIPD in northern England
  • Terry Duffy, Acas area director for the north west of England

We discuss:

  • the argument and evidence for good work practices
  • how good people management changes work for the better
  • what impact covid-19 (coronavirus) has had – and might continue to have – on making working lives better

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This is a conversation about good work in Manchester between Ian McArthur, head of the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter, Daphne Doody, head of CIPD in northern England, and Terry Duffy, Acas area director for the northwest of England. 

Robbie Hurley: Hello, and welcome to the Acas podcast. I'm Robbie Hurley, media manager at Acas and today we'll be discussing the importance of good work, and particularly good people management for both businesses and staff. We'll be looking at the critical role line managers play in managing, supporting and developing staff and asking, what does good people management look like, and how can it be improved?

Forming the basis of our discussion, we'll be looking at the Manchester Good Employment Charter, the work that has been done there over the past couple of years, and a paper based on this jointly published by Acas and the CIPD.

I'm very glad to be joined today by Ian McArthur, head of the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter, Daphne Doody-Green, head of CIPD in Northern England, and Terry Duffy, Acas area director for the Northwest of England. So welcome all. Now, first of all, so, what is good work, and why is it so important, Ian?

Ian McArthur: That's a good question, Robbie. Good work, the way we look at it, we've set out certain characteristics that cover flexible, secure, real living wage – good management is central to it. Fair and open recruitment and health and wellbeing. All of those elements come together to form good work. And it is tied together by excellent people management. It's really important, not just for an individual, or an organisation, because evidence shows that good work practice makes an organisation more productive. 

And we've seen, particularly over the last 12 months, those organisations that have a solid set of values, of value that people that look after their people through good times and bad are those that have come out of the pandemic with a really strong, sustainable organisation. 

It's important for the wider economy of Greater Manchester, because we not only need to be a productive – a more productive – economy, we need to build resilience. And certainly over the last 12 months, we've seen that where there are less than good employment standards, then we have sectors of the economy that will suffer more. And when your service sector, when your foundational economy, isn't performing as well, then the rest of us suffer. So it's an important agenda for an individual organisation, and city regional economy level. 

Robbie: Thanks Ian. Daphne, what does good work then mean, from your perspective?

Daphne Doody-Green: Good work for us, I guess from a CIPD perspective, but also from my perspective, is part of our DNA. It's within the CIPD's purpose to champion better work and working lives, and I guess good work to us is about job quality. It's about what are the key indicators that make people feel like they have good working environments, that they feel supported, they feel developed, they feel like they have the right kind of environment to perform well in their role, so that their baseline principles of what we should be doing in terms of supporting our workers and employees. 

So good work is all of the elements that Ian has just mentioned, but it's about building a stronger and fairer society as well. So we don't just talk about good work in terms of a benefit for employers. This is about supporting our economies and our societies more broadly. And it really plays into creating fairer and inclusive workplaces. So yeah, good work is that, the kind of fundamental principles.

Robbie: Fantastic, and Terry – both very thorough answers – so maybe given you a bit of a difficult task going third, but what's your perspective, what is good work?

Terry Duffy: Well, I'd agree with everything that Ian and Daphne have said. I think for me when I think about good work, I think it's about a relationship that exists between the employee and the organisation, which allows both of them to realise their full potential. The business in terms of its productivity and outputs, and the individual in terms of their development and the reward they get from being a member of that organisation.

Robbie: And as part of the good work agenda, which is quite broad, we're talking specifically today about the importance of people management within that. Why was that decided as one of the sort of main focal points of this, Daphne?

Daphne: For us, and right now, given the current situation and the fact that we do know there is a skill deficit here, and we haven't paid enough attention to people management historically, we know that from some of the research we've done, there's not clear expectations or accountability for people managers within organisations. So we felt that actually, given our combined roles to really shine a light on what does good work mean, that by promoting and supporting people managers, to really enable them and to help them to navigate some of the challenges ahead. I mean, we're going to have hugely diverse workforces, and flexible workforces, and people management will be at the heart of that. Really good people management, and the behaviours and the conversations that people managers can bring to those conversations with their employees, so that they are going to have a huge impact as we go forward.

Robbie: Terry?

Terry: This is part of a campaign to promote good work and the good employment charter in Greater Manchester. We see people management very much as an enabler of lots of things, for example, you could have some really, really good policies in your workplace. But if people managers don't understand them, it's very unlikely that those policies will have any traction. It needs to be translated and it’s good people managers who can do that. And then that enables employees within a workplace to be fully focused on meeting the aims and the ambitions or the goals of that organisation.

Robbie: Ian, when you looked at this, and how it applied to Manchester, what were the challenges? And what did you do to try and move, say, organisations from possibly that your team is not so good work towards good work and help them with their line management and good management skills?

Ian: What we've experienced over the last 12 months, and the way in which the workplace has had to adapt, have laid out huge challenges to people managers, especially those people managers who are perhaps stuck in a mindset around presenteeism, where if they weren't watching their staff, if they weren't standing over them, if you weren't seeing them delivering, then, they didn't know what they were doing, they lacked trust. And a lot of this is built upon trust and good values. 

So, one of the things we've seen over the last 12 months, and we've seen a number of issues around inequalities, around flexible work, around health and wellbeing – particularly mental health and wellbeing, but at the core of that, to make all of those other elements work is good people management. We need to build capacity and point out where the challenges now lie for people managers moving forward. And that's why we're delighted to be working with Acas and CIPD on this particular campaign to raise the awareness of employers that people managers may need some help with some of the challenges. Acas and CIPD have been wonderful partners to the charter, frankly, the resources, the enthusiasm and the networks that they provide. We just wouldn't deliver what we're delivering now without them.

Robbie: What does good people management look like in the first place? And then how does it look now, given all these challenges?

Daphne: The CIPD has recently carried out some research with Affinity Health where we've identified 5 behavioural traits that all managers need to have, and really to be able to engage with employees and have productive working relationships. Because I guess, when we talk about good work, and all of the characteristics of good work, it's those conversations, the capability and the maturity of those conversations that will enable flexible working – good conversations around learning and development, questions around job design, for example. 

So, some of the behaviours that have been called out around being fair and open and consistent, and we've talked about flexible working, that having a mature conversation about what my working week looks like, what I'm expected to do in terms of outputs. Those are the conversations and the behaviours that we really need to support our people managers with. 

And actually, a recent piece of research that CIPD does, there are still a significant amount of people who are not getting trained in people management, I think 40% in a recent survey are still not getting the people management development that they need. So they’re getting the technical development, but not the people management. So I think a real strong focus on behaviours, on the relationships, productive working relationships, and supporting people managers to navigate those conversations.

And I think, let's remember in the last year, the conversations around wellbeing, the conversations about getting work done. Those will have been difficult questions and answers for people managers to deal with and whether we've equipped them. I think that's why we're all here on the call today to really encourage employers to consider how they support people managers to deal with these kinds of conversations in the workplace.

Robbie: Absolutely – sounds like something we're all working with to a degree. And we've also been seeing a lot of organisations talking about the future of hybrid working – how do you see hybrid working in the future? And is that something that can help with diversity? And can help with wellbeing? Or are there negatives to that? Terry?

Terry: I think organisations need to think about what is it that we do, and how is the best way for us to do that. So there will be discussions about work organisation and job design, those kinds of things. But I think the people aspect of it is equally important. And this is where people managers come in. People managers can be that conduit for discussions. They can open up those discussions with the members of their teams.  That can then inform effective decision making on behalf of organisations. 

So the decision-making can be improved by listening to what people's needs are. And of course, with hybrid working, you're going to have to think about well, how do we make sure that people can participate properly, if you've got half the workforce, which might be in an office environment, half remotely, the technology is a great enabler for these things. But I think it is going to take some thinking through.

Daphne: There's going to be a huge shift, no doubt in how future workplaces look. If I think about the profession, if I think about the HR profession right now, what we do know is they are tackling some really big people challenges. So they are looking at this kind of transformational workplace, what does it look like? And interestingly, what we're hearing from our HR leaders is yes, it's about hybrid working, it's about all of those things, but it really starts with kind of values and culture and how we're going to lead this.

And that’s some of the more kind of leadership challenges around this, is that how do you take people on that journey with you? And how does that impact, essentially impact the culture that may have existed pre-pandemic, which may feel different now. And then obviously, you've got the backdrop of organisations having to really think about the economic impact of the current situation. So there's lots of different dynamics to this. 

We have to be really careful that we manage our people, we create the right environment for them to work, and some people will be able to work from home, others will prefer a working environment. And this is really where the people manager piece comes in, helping to navigate those conversations and making sure that it is fair and equal. And what we do know, particularly in places where it's a corporate organisation, lots of people have huge, huge amounts of flexibility now because they're able to work from home. But those in manual or other industry sectors, they're not able to have the same kind of flexibility.

So I think in whatever way, whatever this looks like in the future, it has to be fair, and it has to be consistent. And that's why we're really championing flexible working provision at CIPD.

Terry: I think there's going to be a drive both ways. Organisations will probably realise some of the benefits of agile and remote working, but employees too will see the benefits for them. And that agenda is only going to grow. So I think good people managers can be the way to articulate within their teams, within their departments, what is it that we need to do, and how can we do it, meeting the different needs of members of their team. But all of those things have to be navigated and good people managers can negotiate and agree those expectations with people.

So it isn't a case of people just choosing what they need to do. It needs to fit with what the business needs are as well. But that balancing act is where good people managers can come in, because they usually are able to articulate how the demands and the needs of the business can be met alongside the needs of individual members of their team.

Robbie: Ian?

Ian: Yes, it's a huge challenge. I'll only endorse what Daphne and Terry have said already, I think one of the challenges we've experienced, and we've seen the benefits of flexible work and remote working – when it started, we found benefits of it. But actually, if you look at some of the research, there are huge discrepancies in some of those benefits we already think we've achieved.

Women, for instance, throughout the pandemic have suffered disproportionate impacts, having to juggle caring needs, and childcare needs, while still trying to do domestic stuff around the home. It's pretty obvious that that hasn't been equitable in terms of opportunity and development moving forward. And that's something good people managers need to be absolutely aware of. 

I think when we start thinking about the future of work, and I think Daphne's alluded to this, that there are some roles, particularly low-paid, but actually public-facing roles, that will never have the opportunity for flexible work in the same way as those who are office based – so-called higher value jobs. So I think we've got challenges that we know are coming, yet we're not quite sure how to manage them in a structural way. Because this has changed the employment market and employment markets across not just Greater Manchester, but across the country, in a structural way. And when we see how that aligns, then I think we'll start to unpick some of the solutions and see where innovation comes.

Just talking about innovation, I think that's the thing that perhaps we've missed. Over the last year, when people come together, that's when innovation tends to happen. And when people come together in a physical meeting, relaxed environment, that's where ideas can be sparked off one another. So I think, personally speaking, I can't see myself ever working 9 to 5 in an office again, I'm quite comfortable doing that sort of work at home. But goodness, I miss the colleagues and the partners that I can sit around the table with and chew over a problem and come up with a solution. That's something that we are struggling to do, I think, through the platforms and the technology that we have at the moment. So I'll certainly be wanting a hybrid kind of working life moving forward.

Robbie: Well, it's been great to hear about all the work that's been done in Manchester and more widely on people management, and also the collaborative nature of this. How pooling resources, sharing learnings and skills is really made to take off. So thanks very much again to all of you.

This has been the Acas podcast. If you would like more information and to read the new policy paper on people management by Acas and CIPD and the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter, you can find links in the episode resources. 

Thanks again for listening.